Sports Letters: Justice for Aborigines
Wednesday 29 September 1999
Sir: The letter from David Ritchie, the acting Australian High Commissioner, (16 September) in response to Chris Maume's piece about discrimination against Aboriginal sportspeople alerts us to the kind of specious propaganda we can expect in the run-up to the Sydney Olympics. What's disgraceful about Ritchie's comments is the omission of any recognition of the grievous state of Aboriginal people. Apart from countries at war, Australia's native people have the highest death rate on earth. Australia is the only first- world country on a World Health Organisation "shame list" of countries where trachoma, an entirely preventable blinding disease, is rampant. Impoverished Sri Lanka has wiped it out, but not rich Australia. And the victims are Aboriginal people.
The United Nations Committee on Racial Discrimination recently produced its first adverse finding against a Western country - Australia. Read the growing number of Amnesty reports on human rights abuses in Australia, especially Aboriginal deaths in custody, and apartheid South Africa comes to mind. The significant difference is that Aborigines represent less than two per cent of the population and their suffering has been hidden behind white Australia's sunny exterior.
The pre-Olympics propaganda will concentrate on dismissing all this as "out of date". In sport, the truth is not Cathy Freeman and those like her. In his landmark study, Obstacle Race, Professor Colin Tatz, an authority on Aboriginal sport, lists 1,200 talented Aboriginal sportsmen and women, of whom only five had access to the same facilities, training and opportunities as whites. "A tour of black sporting Australia will make you weep," says Professor Tatz. The First Australians deserve justice, not deceit.
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